Last month of May, the Portuguese parliament approved a bill legalizing euthanasia. It was approved with a comfortable majority: 129 votes against 81.
The provisions of Portugal’s bill are similar to laws passed in the Netherlands and Belgium in 2002. Eligibles must be over 18, must be suffering from an incurable disease, must endure “lasting” and “unbearable” pain, and must be citizens or legal residents of Portugal.
The bill will only become law after President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa signs it, and he has said he will. “”The Constitution obliges the president to promulgate a law that he vetoed, but which has been ratified by the Assembly of the Republic (…) it is my constitutional duty.” Rebelo has vetoed similar bills twice before and twice referred them to the Constitutional Court, which declared them unconstitutional.
Supporters of the bill hailed it as a victory of “compassion” and “choice.” They argue that it will allow people to die with dignity and without pain.
The opponents promised to continue fighting. The center-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) indicated that it will try to appeal the law before the Constitutional Court, which is only possible if 10% of the deputies request it.
The deputies of the Communist Party (PCP) voted against the bill. Its leader, Paulo Raimundo, said that he had serious doubts about the legalization of euthanasia. In the public forum “More strength to workers” he commented that what the country needs is better public health. The PCP has consistently opposed euthanasia. One of his deputies explained his position in parliament last year: «Individual autonomy is something that must be respected, but an organized society is not a mere sum of individual autonomies. A legislative option on the life or death of people cannot be assumed without taking into account the circumstances and the social consequences of that option…”
The Portuguese State cannot continue to deny many of its citizens the healthcare they need, especially in times of greatest suffering. The creation of a universal palliative care network must be an absolute priority. Nobody understands euthanasia as a substitute for palliative care and for PCP there is an inescapable issue: a country should not create legal instruments to anticipate death and help die when it does not guarantee material conditions to help live.
The Association of Portuguese Catholic Physicians (AMCP) was bitterly disappointed by the prospect of legalization. “Today, Portugal lives a black day in its history,” he declared. “We reiterate that euthanasia and assisted suicide are acts against Medicine itself, they are acts prohibited to doctors, they are not medical acts.”
From Rome, and before the approval of the bill by the Portuguese parliament, Pope Francis has indicated: «Today I am very sad. It is one more step in the long list of countries with euthanasia. He went on to say that euthanasia is “a grave sin against the sanctity of life.”